Readings for February 4

Reading Assignment for Monday

Please complete each of the following readings, noting that you may have to sign in on OWL-Space to access some of them. Come to class on Monday prepared to talk about what you’ve read.

  • Susan J. Douglas, Listening In: Radio and the American Imagination, from Amos ‘n’ Andy and Edward R. Murrow to Wolfman Jack and Howard Stern (Times Books, 1999), pp. 284-300, link to PDF
  • Heather Hendershot, “God’s Angriest Man: Carl McIntire, Cold War Fundamentalism, and Right-Wing Broadcasting,” American Quarterly 59, no. 2 (2007), pp. 373-396, link to online version
  • Epiloque to Hendershot’s book, What’s Fair on the Air? (2011), link to PDF
  • Kim Phillips-Fein, Invisible Hands: The Businessmen’s Crusade against the New Deal (W. W. Norton, 2009), pp. 77-86, link to PDF

If you are prompted for a password when clicking on the above links, use your NetID and password, not your username and password for this site.

You may also be interested in watching this five-minute interview with Phillips-Fein, which explains more fully some of her argument.


Last Wednesday, you watched several early episodes of Firing Line, a television show hosted by conservative journalist William F. Buckley, Jr. Many of you also agreed with Richard Brookhiser that Firing Line seemed somehow more moderate or even-handed than the cable channels for political news that we are familiar with today, like Fox News or MSNBC.

Many of the Wednesday Reports commented on this point. For example, beta03 asked:

Given Mr. Brookhiser’s characterization of Firing Line, that it provided the left a place to state their stance because “honor comes only from victory over worthy opponents,” why has the national media shifted towards a method of news where to opposite side is totally absent or represented by mere punching bags? Why has the idea that the both sides need their say for one to win died?

And student beta07 raised a similar question.

On the other hand, beta10 wondered if in some ways Firing Line was a precursor to today’s media:

To what extent can we consider William Buckley the father of the modern conservative movement and, more specifically, its tactics (e.g. talk radio and the Fox News Network)?

In class, the Gamma group summarized these lines of thought with one overarching question:

What role did the evolution of the media play in the development of bipartisanship, and how has the media affected the polarization of the two parties?

Your readings for Monday address these questions, but it may raise others. As you read, here are a couple of questions to consider:

  1. How do these authors differ in their explanations of what led to the rise of highly politicized conservative media or talk radio?
  2. Do any of the articles offer information that challenges the conclusions of the other authors?

Class Discussion

First we talked about this question: Was Firing Line representative of a golden age of political media that we have somehow lost?

These readings suggest that before Firing Line there were many extremist radio and television shows, like the 1930s radio broadcasts of Father Coughlin or the Cold War broadcasts of Carl McIntire.

This challenges the idea that Firing Line was typical of all broadcasts of the era. Still, all these authors agree that something has changed from Carl McIntire and Firing Line to the present, though they differ on exactly what…

Douglas highlights the effects of …

  1. Technological changes like satellite radio and FM
  2. Deregulation of radio under the Reagan administration, repeal of the Fairness Doctrine (1987)
  3. Cultural changes in ideas of masculinity which increased demand for shock jock radio

Hendershot believes that deregulation in 1987 matters. But Hendershot thinks that the shows following deregulation are not as extremist as before, because of pressures put on the Old Right by a new evangelical movement. She emphasizes factors internal to the conservative movemet, rather than in the culture at large, to explain both the return of religious conservatism on the airwaves after 1987 and the attempts of these “evangelical conservatives” to distance themselves from the old extremism.1

Phillips-Fein sees more continuity between the 1930s and 1940s anti-New Deal conservatives and the present pro-business conservatism media. What’s really driving change or the absence of change is funding sources; businessmen who fund shows and journalism that preach deregulation and free markets.

As we talked about in class, these three authors agree on some of the major outlines of the story (particularly in that they all emphasize deregulation of the FCC under Reagan as a crucial turning point), but still differ subtly about the extent of change over time and the causes of what changes have occurred.

  1. Perhaps we saw something similar to what Hendershot describes in yesterday’s appearance of Wayne La Pierre on Fox News. He did not emerge unscathed, and that’s Hendershot’s point; that after the Cold War the conservative movement has sought and continues to seek to distinguish center-right moderation from the most radical wings of the Right.